BY Art Thiel 09:48PM 12/15/2012

Thiel: Kansas State finds Gonzaga scary good

From his sideline-pacing area along KeyArena sideline with four minutes left Saturday night, Kansas State coach Bruce Weber yelled out to the court, “That’s terrible!” Twice.

Presumably, once was for the officiating, and once was for his team. Any other accounting just wasn’t accurate.

But accuracy took second place to rudeness, so Weber was busted with a technical foul.  It was, more or less, the final indignity in a game long since lost because, well, the Wildcats were terrible.

The counterpoint to that claim after the 68-52 dismantling is that Gonzaga is really good. With a 7-foot center that can get 20 points and a defense that can make daylight dark, the Zags re-established their bona fides following a rare home loss in Spokane a week ago to Illinois, 85-74, which ended the best start (9-0) in school history.

After watching the University of Washington and Seattle University fool around on the same court two nights earlier in front of 6,000 mostly listless observers, seeing an engaged Gonzaga in front of 16,451 engaged fans was Broadway vs. a junior-high Christmas play.

The 14th-ranked Zags operated with the swagger and authority characteristic of a Final Four team. They never let up, diving for loose balls, challenging every K-State shot and plunging hoopward like a steak dinner rested on the rim.

“I told those guys, ‘That’s why these people come, because Gonzaga plays that way,’” said coach Mark Few, normally a dour dude who was plainly pleased by the ferocious effort.  “One time, we had all five guys on floor (pursuing a loose ball) in front of their bench. We didn’t have one time against Illinois that we had five on the floor.

“That’s why these fans love this guys. We can’t lose sight of that.”

The Zags rarely do. This was the 10th annual Battle in Seattle, the showcase game for Gonzaga on the wet side of the state, where many alums work and make big money to send back to the alma mater in boxcars.

The Zags always invite a premier non-conference team, and are now 6-4 in the series, which is impressive given the caliber of opponents. The Huskies have had a few similar moments of high-end college hoops, but none this year and few last year. For the sake of the Huskies’ profile in the state, it’s good they no longer play Gonzaga. Right now, Gonzaga is to Washington what Washington is to Seattle U.

Saturday’s hoops feast included a bit of a coming-out party for Kelly Olynyk, the 7-foot junior center from Kamloops, B.C., who missed his career high by two points while playing just 19 minutes before fouling out.

Olynyk delivered the play and the adrenaline shot of the game with 8:56 left. With K-State hanging around at 47-35, Olynk and guard Kevin Pangos executed a pick and roll outside, and Pangos bounce-passed as Olynk rolled to the hoop. Let him tell it.

“Kevin made a great pocket pass right in my stride,” said Olynyk. “I took two steps, gathered myself, and if I’m on the move, I usually get up pretty high.

“I had that mentality tonight to dunk everything. That’s what I did.”

The tomahawk, stiffarm slam crushed the Wildcats and sent most everyone else to their feet. Even Olynyk was uncharacteristically animated. He screamed something a Wildcats player and flung an elbow. The exuberance was seen as bit distasteful, and he drew a T. But like a good Zag, the ponytailed Canuck took full responsibility.

“It was taunting — I took it to a level that wasn’t allowed,” he said. “The ref made the right call.

“I just got caught up in the game, emotions flaring.”

The boost from the big fella allowed Elias Harris, the Zags’ top scorer, to be relieved of the load for a night.

“Tonight was Kelly’s night,” he said. “They didn’t have an answer for him. Everyone did a good job finding him.”

In contrast, the Wildcats nearly disappeared as the game went on. The Zags, leading 27-26 at the half, suffocated the Wildcats, forcing 18 turnovers and holding K-State’s leading scorer, 6-4 Rodney McGruder, to four points on 1-for-9 shooting.

“That’s about as good a defense as I’ve seen a Gonzaga team play,” said Weber, in his first year at K-State,v but who has been to the NCAAtournment eight times. “They locked in on Rodney. We probably didn’t screen as well as we need to do to help him get open, but he’s also got to shoot open shots when he has opportunities.”

To start the second half, no Wildcat had opportunities. Gonzaga went on a 20-6 run over 11 minutes to seal the game. K-State (7-2) missed 16 of its 22 second-half field goal attempts.

By all accounts in the Gonzaga locker room, the week of practice, around finals week, was brutal, as Few attempted to get everyone’s attention after the the surrender of 85 points to Illinois.

“I didn’t think we’d go undefeated playing the schedule we have,” he said. “But we had to get back our focus on the defensive end. I’m not going to make any proclamations or anything (after the win),  but we got our feet back under us, guarding the way we need to to be successful.”

For one night, basketball fans in Seattle had an up-close view of what college basketball success looks like.


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